Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Camp Part 2

extreme close up Following up on my first post about DSA Camp a couple weeks ago . . .

As I mentioned, one of the special features of camp is the opportunity to train the dogs to do new things, and to earn cute little merit badges in the process.  As this was Cadence’s first year, he first had to pass the Scout test.  He waited until about the last possible minute to decide to demonstrate his knowledge of “heel”, so he was making me really sweat it out all week, but ultimately the hamster stayed on the wheel long enough for him to walk a simple heeling sequence in front of an evaluator.  Clearly he needs work on this though.  At least he is pretty decent at loose-leash walking.

He also earned the first agility badge, the backpacking badge, and the “Art of Shaping” badge.  For the shaping badge, we shape the dogs to wear a painting “mitt” on their paw and to “paint” by making repeated paw swipes on a canvas.  I love operant conditioning, so this badge is always fun right up until the time that you get the actual paint out.  After that, everything inevitably goes to hell and you end up with a dog that wants to eat the paint, watch everyone else, and swipe at everything BUT the canvas with their paint-soaked paw.  I  made it out without too many colors on my clothes this year at least.



Having a first-year dog at camp is quite time consuming, so we were proud that we were still able to earn badges with all four of the other dogs.  Maebe got her Agility II badge, and smoked the tunnelers fun course with a winning time of 13 seconds.  (Jade was in second place behind her with a time of 20 seconds – not bad for an almost 11-year old!)  Lowell and Jade earned the Rally Obedience badge together, which was very cool.  Jade is pure prey drive, and he usually excels at badges involving water (dock diving, water racing, etc.) or some variation on chasing a bag on a string (lure coursing, steeplechase).  But he is a good heeler, and I was pleased that he learned some new things this year.


Tristan and Django earned their IMPROV Obedience badges.  IMPROV is a new variation on obedience (DSA will soon be holding sanctioned events – stay tuned), that involves creativity, distance work, and lateral thinking.  You need to perform a series of exercises that, while they follow some general formats (fetching odd objects, working away from the handler, coming into contact with new things, etc.), are always different depending on what the judge decides to come up with that day.  Having general obedience skills (and ideally a few tricks) is very helpful, but often you need to think creatively to figure out how to use your dog’s known behaviors to accomplish a task together.

Lowell and Tristan and Django and I had a blast with it.  It really was an exercise where you got to see the dogs think and problem-solve, and you got to see what you can do as a team together.  It was also amusing to watch dog trainers who know better resort to typical verbal primate behavior and, when all else failed, try to explain to the dog in common English what was required of them.  I’m sure none of us have actually trained the cue “Pick up the hairbrush and go set it in that mail box 10 feet away” but it didn’t stop us from trying when nothing else was working. 

Oh, and not only did he earn the badge, but Django won third place in the mini IMPROV match!


At the end of the week, it was fun to reflect on our relationships and journeys with the five dogs.  I enjoyed the opportunity to work so intensely with Cadence for a full week, and he did great.  At the same time, while I love starting out with a new dog and the fun learning process that it is, there is always the challenge of working through adolescent distractibility.  There were times that I felt impatient to get to the place where Noodle didn’t need reminders every ten seconds that, hey, we are doing something TOGETHER here.  What helped me through that though was the time spent with Django, especially at IMPROV.  Django and I have a relationship now where I believe he would try to do anything I ever asked of him.  One night while working IMPROV, we had been going a long time and were about to do the final exercise of the night.  It was the evening of an activity-filled day, and Django had to be roused from a power nap at my feet when it was our turn.  He walked to the start line with me still a bit groggy, and I know he probably would have been happy to head back to the trailer for the night.  But, as soon as I asked him to begin, he went right to work for me, gave it his all, and his tail wagged faster and faster as we completed the exercise.  All he asked in return for giving 100% was a chest scratch.  And that is how he always is.  He is so easy, never causes trouble, and watches me all day just in case I might ask him to do something. 

Django is such a great partner, and I reminded myself over the week that this relationship didn’t happen overnight, but was a process itself.  I see in Cadence the same desire that Django has to be right (even though at times it is really, REALLY hard for a Noodle), and I know how rewarding it will be to do the work with him.  I also don’t expect him to be another Django, and I am appreciating the dog that he is, both in his brilliant moments and his squirrely ones.  For all their challenges, we are enjoying these teenage months.

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